Archives for category: politics

Plato, without actually saying so, was planning to ‘kill’ it.
A society run by his king-priests would have been ‘perfect’. Hence in no need of improvement. Not exactly dead but how would you describe something that doesn’t change in time? Anything but alive, right? And since ‘no change’ means ‘no history’…

Four centuries later, Jesus Christ had warned us about the ‘Final Countdown‘. Last Judgement, sorry. But what difference does it make? Final… Last…

Fast forward to the XIXth century, when Karl Marx was breathing new life into Plato’s ideas.
The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.” (Karl Marx et al, Manifesto of the Communist Party),
Which very able and extremely wise communists were supposed to solve all past, present and future problems through a very simple measure. Abolition of private property and of the state needed to protect such property.
And since not everybody was yet ready to receive ‘the good news’, the communists were given a free hand to use revolutionary force in order to accomplish what they had to do.

To finally bring order to the World. To end history, that is.

Am I thick headed or the difference between Marx’s and Plato’s words is small enough to be insignificant?

You have again forgotten, my friend, said I, that the law is not concerned with the special happines of any class in the state, but is trying to produce this condition in the city as a whole, harmonizing and adapting the citizens to one another by persuasion and compulsion, and requiring them to impart to one another any benefit which they are severally able to bestow upon the community, and that it itself creates such men in the state, not that it may allow each to take what course pleases him, but with a view to using them to the binding together of the commonwealth.” (Plato, Collected Dialogues, The Cave)

A short century later, another optimist announced that ‘now, after the communist gulag had finally imploded, liberal democracy – a system flexible enough to absorb/solve any input/problem – will take over the entire planet. And, of course, bring over “The End of History” “.

Three decades later things are going on, as if nothing had happened.

There are still plenty rulers who behave as if “L’etat c’est moi” was coined yesterday and, even more sadly, too many people who look up to them.

The end of history has been postponed. Indefinitely.

 

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past future byron prophecy

OK, I’m willing to admit that the past gives us a strong indication about what may happen in the future. Hence it might be a very good prophet!

The best?… that would depend on how each of us interprets the notion.
The notion of prophecy, of course.

And since the best( ?!?, 😉 ) way to understand an action is to figure out the motivation behind it…

Let me start with the beginning.

What is a prophecy?

In fact there are two kinds of prophecies. Of promises, actually.
‘Don’t do that or you’ll have to face the consequences’ and ‘if you’ll do such and such, your reward will be this’.

Only very few of the prophets have been using such a clear language. Most of them have preferred to use a much more convoluted manner of expression.
Quite understandably.

First of all, because these were ‘second hand’ promises.
They were not uttered directly by the promising agent but by a more or less ‘self appointed press secretary’. Who had no sure way of knowing whether he had at least a working understanding of the message he was supposed to deliver to his peers, whether they were going/able to understand/accept the message in it’s entirety nor whether they were going/able/willing to abide to all its intricacies.

Secondly, and this is applicable specially to the ‘don’t do it’ kind of prophecy, let’s examine what may happen if/when people do heed to a professed  prophecy.

I’ll consider the ‘positive’ case first.

If people do ‘the right thing’, and the reward promptly arrives, they think/feel ‘it is rightfully theirs’, no question asked. The prophet is seldom remembered. And in the rare cases when people do remember they’ve been foretold, the extended thanks rise very rarely above ‘lip service’ level.

If people think they have done ‘the right thing’ but are unaware they have ‘trespassed’, one way or another, they expect ‘their’ reward. Which, usually in this situation, never comes.
Who’s more likely to shoulder the blame? Remember that the people are not aware of not having fulfilled their bidding!
The prophet?
You nailed it!

And there’s a strong possibility that he might get nailed himself!

Let’s examine the ‘negative’ case now.
The one where the prophecy is ‘don’t do that, or else!’

People might choose to heed to the warning. Hence no punishment. Again, the prophet is usually forgotten along the way. Mainly because the bad things he kept speaking about never came through/true. Or even worse, he may be laughed at. But he’s happy. He has helped his people avoid experiencing a bad thing.
Or people might choose to ignore the warning. Hence experience the punishment.
Or, even worse, the people might try to ‘do the right thing’ and fail. For what ever reason. Who would be the most likely to be held responsible by the masses, or blamed by the politicians? For making an incomplete,  or mistaken, prophecy…
An even stranger situation develops when the ‘judge’ decides to give ‘his’ people another chance. And postpones the (well deserved?!?) punishment. Is it possible that the people might decide to ignore altogether the prophecy, completely misinterpreting both the prophecy and the misericordia displayed by the judge?
Quite annoying for the prophet, right?

Boring?
You might consider that I didn’t consider all possibilities… for instance that when the reward comes without (in spite?) all demands having (not) been fulfilled. The prophet becomes a laughing stock, right?

Anyway, the whole thing was intentionally meant to be somewhat boring.
This way your attention wasn’t mesmerized and you had a fighting chance to figure out my real point.

Go back up and glance at Byron. He looks back but his body faces the future.

We are the ones called to presently transform the past into the future.
Glancing back tells us where we come from and what we have at our disposal.
Yet we have only one option. To go forward.
To survive and, maybe, to prosper.

Yes, we have a lot of carry-on luggage.
But it’s up to us to use that luggage as a resource or to trundle it along as a burden.

Another prophecy…

do as the Romans do.

According to UrbanDictionary.com, “it has become shortened so often, some people don’t get it anymore. It’s an analogy making use of the strict rule of the ancient Roman empire”

Wikipedia mentions that it’s “a proverb attributed to Saint Ambrose”, meaning “that it is advisable to follow the conventions of the area in which you are residing or visiting.”

OK, seems sensible to follow the rules, specially when their are enforced vigorously. Furthermore, why rock the boat – specially when visiting a place? Or shortly after you’ve just moved in?

How about after becoming familiar with the local mores?

 

fall of Rome

 

Could there be anything more behind these words?

The proverb dates from an era when Rome was the center of the world. Of the Mediterranean world, anyway…
Could it also mean ‘do as the Romans do and you’ll share into the benefits enjoyed by the rest of them’? In line with ‘don’t rock the boat, lest the others will throw you out’?

In other words, the proverb suggests that ‘herding is good for you’.

Which is true. Most of the time, anyway.

Specially when you know when to bail out…

In this context I must remind you that mighty Rome ended up being sacked by a succession of rogue thieves… some of them hired by the emperors to guard the borders because the Roman citizens had became too ‘adept’ at ‘panem et circenses’ to bother anymore with bearing arms…

It seems that not all things done by the Romans were actually worth doing.

How about exercising our brains instead of sheepishly following the herd?
No need to insult the others, ‘rock the boat’ or anything else dramatic.
Just honestly give them the reasons for your dissent.
If they are wise – and you are right, of course, they’ll come your way.

If not… you should either follow the rules… or change the herd.

 

A whole century has passed since the events described in Erich Maria Remarque’s Nothing New on the Western Front/Im Westen nichts Neues.

Not that we’ve learned much during this time…

1968

Brezhnev sends Russian troops to freeze back the Prague Spring.
Ceausescu, the communist dictator who ruled Romania at that time, refused to take part. He had even summoned enough courage to chastise the ‘outside intervention’.

Ceausescu praga

“No excuse can be found for…”

1978

Ten years later he was driven around London in a state carriage by Queen Elizabeth.
As a pat on the the back for his apparent independence from Moscow, as an attempt to weaken the communist ‘camp’ … both at the same time…
Never mind… We, Romanians, were very proud at that time while Elizabeth – and her advisers, must have had quite a heart-burn… specially later, after Ceausescu had started flying his true colors…

Ceausescu cu Lizica

1989

Romania’s was the second to last European communist regime to disintegrate and the only one which had ended in a self inflicted blood bath.  Ceausescu, and his wife – ‘the Presidential Couple’!, were shot at the end of a very short trial during which both had been found guilty of genocide, treason and subversion.

1989 Cu excavatorul la revolutie2005 Niagara

2014

Twenty five years later, Russia’s rising star was lionized by some in the European media.

the emperors clothes

Hungary’s Prime Minister was jokingly hailed as “the dictator” by the President of the European Commission.

Orban the dictator

 

Currently the Americans are trying to determine whether Putin has somehow influenced their last electoral process,

Putin Trump Hamburg

while Orban continues to build walls around Hungary.

hungary wall

Small wonder then for these two to become bosom buddies, regardless of what drives each of them…

Putin honorary

“Putin will receive the honor in the Parliament during his visit to the 2017 World Judo Championships in Budapest on Monday.”
“Putin will attend the judo by invitation of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. It will be Putin’s second visit to Hungary this year.”

 

 

“America’s abundance was not created by public sacrifices to “the common good,” but by the productive genius of free men who pursued their own personal interests and the making of their own private fortunes. They did not starve the people to pay for America’s industrialization. They gave the people better jobs, higher wages, and cheaper goods with every new machine they invented, with every scientific discovery or technological advance—and thus the whole country was moving forward and profiting, not suffering, every step of the way.”

Ayn Rand

OK, she borrowed this idea from Adam Smith, without mentioning him… let bygones be bygones…

A more interesting endeavor would be to learn something from all this.

‘Abundance was not created by public sacrifices’.
Makes a lot of sense. In a free market everybody gets what they are offered, ideally in close accord to what each of them had brought to the market.

‘Abundance was created by the productive genius of free people who pursued their own personal interest and the making of their own private fortunes’.
Now, whose ‘productive genius’ are we speaking about here?

About Ford’s, for instance, or about that of his workers?

At the time, workers could count on about $2.25 per day, for which they worked nine-hour shifts. It was pretty good money in those days, but the toll was too much for many to bear. Ford’s turnover rate was very high. In 1913, Ford hired more than 52,000 men to keep a workforce of only 14,000. New workers required a costly break-in period, making matters worse for the company. Also, some men simply walked away from the line to quit and look for a job elsewhere. Then the line stopped and production of cars halted. The increased cost and delayed production kept Ford from selling his cars at the low price he wanted. Drastic measures were necessary if he was to keep up this production.

Tim Worstall, Forbes Magazine

Anyway you look at it, both Ford and his workers were acting as ‘rational economic agents’. Ford was paying them the going rates in the industry and they were putting in as little effort as they could afford to.

That went on until Ford came up with a ‘new idea’. “It can indeed be cheaper to pay workers more but to reduce the turnover of them and those associated training costs.” “The point is not so as to be paying a “decent wage” or anything of that sort: it is to be paying a higher wage than other employers. That gets your workforce thinking they’ve got a good deal (for the clear reason that they have got a good deal) and if the workers think they’ve got a good deal then they’re more likely to turn up on time, sober, and work diligently.”

Again, a very reasonable attitude displayed by both parties.
An attitude made possible by the fact that both the car and workforce markets were free.
Ford could hire anybody/sell his cars to whomever had enough money to buy them while his workers were free to leave their previous workplaces and accept Ford’s offer. Or leave him if they found a better one.

And let’s not forget the fact that Ford was not alone, at that time. At the turn of the XX-th century there were hundreds of automobile producers in the US alone and this was one of the reasons for which the workers could afford to be so ‘picky’ – specially those who had some experience.

In this situation – where the market was really free, each party taking good care of their own interest yielded excellent results.
Ford had became one of the leading car manufacturing corporations.
The diligent workers continuously improved their living standards.
The society, as a whole, prospered. And learned, or should have had, the long term benefits of commitment and mutual respect.

What happened after the market was no longer free?

Meaning that instead of hundreds of car manufacturers competing for the best available workers we had for a considerable number of years only three corporations more interested in short term profiteering rather than improving their products?
And instead of diligent workers striving to improve their skills we had union members more interested in their week-end barbecues?

“The U.S. government bailout of the auto industry lasted from January 2009 to December 2013. The Big Three automakers approached Congress in November 2008. They warned that, without the bailout, GM and Chrysler faced bankruptcy and the loss of one million jobs. Ford didn’t need the funds, since it had already cut costs. But it asked to be included so it wouldn’t suffer by competing with subsidized companies.

The Treasury Department invested $80.7 billion from the $700 billion authorized by EESA. It recouped all but $10.2 billion…”

Kimberly Amadeo, thebalance.com

Some of you might tell me that the Japanese car manufacturers operate along more or less the same guide-lines. ‘Cradle to grave’ employment for the workers, a rather opaque management never held accountable until too late…
A very correct observation.
Only there is a huge difference between the Japanese work-ethos and ‘the American Dream’. The Japanese have a long history of being told to ‘fit in’ while most Americans have gradually convinced themselves that ‘getting rich’ is the only possible solution for all their problems…

Considering that both Japan and America seem to have reached two different cul-de-sacs it wouldn’t be farfetched to suggest that both are doing something wrong.

For almost 30 years now Japan has been running in circles. She hasn’t completely lost her edge but hasn’t performed as it used to.
The most worrying indicator – for me, at least, being the fact that they have given up ‘making’ children. As if the present generation doesn’t have much hope for/expectations from the future.
For almost 30 years now the American people has allowed a huge trench to grow larger and larger in their mist. The haves on one side, the have-nots on the other and the rift so wide that they are no longer able hear each-other. A present day Henry Ford would have no idea about how much to pay his workers in order to obtain similar results to those achieved at the start of the XX-th century…

Is there a ‘common cause’ that might explain what’s going on on both sides of the Pacific?
How about both cultural and economic spaces experiencing a somewhat similar decrease in individual liberty, the phenomenon having rather different causes in each of the two cases?

First of all, ‘dedication to duty’ can take you only that far. It is very useful for those wishing to ‘close a gap’ but acts similarly to an ankle weight for those who are in the position to attempt to ‘take the lead’. ‘Dedication to duty’ focuses the attention of the team to ‘obeying the rules’ while ‘taking the lead’ means leaving the ‘straight and narrow’ and venturing into the unknown.
These two situations imply completely different mind frames.

Secondly, those who venture outside the ‘safety of the perimeter’ need to follow a simple rule.

“Leave no man behind”.

” “When you have a conscript army and you can always replenish it just by adding more people, you don’t really have to care about whether they’re happy with what they’re doing,” Springer said.

Now the military had to care about its soldiers as individuals, and the idea that it would never leave them behind became something of a familial bond.

“It’s kind of a contract with the service,” Springer said. “You promise to serve us, we promise not to leave you.” “

 

You see, time and time again history has hinted to us that freer societies fared better, ceteris paribus, compared to ‘tighter knit’ ones.
For example, subjected to the same communist knut, Poland came out differently than my native Romania.

And while most people agree about Poland being in a better shape than Romania, there is very little agreement about a possible explanation.
Just as most people agree about ‘liberty is good’ while each of those people derive different meanings from the very concept of freedom.

Since it is so hard to coordinate ourselves about the meaning of a ‘simple’ word, how about taking the liberty to ‘agree to disagree’ and turn our attention to another concept?

Mutual respect.

Just think about what liberty would mean without mutual respect.

Can you imagine the liberty of someone driving a M1 Abrams tank on a highway?
Can you imagine what would happen if the driver of the tank wouldn’t treat the others with utmost respect? What would happen if the outraged others would band together and wait for the ‘mad’ driver to burn through his last drop of fuel?

You see, people who have more respect for the rules than they have for each-other end up belonging to a society so tightly knit that it has immense troubles whenever it has to cope with unforeseen situations. Adapt to change.  Confront a catastrophe…
For example, the Soviet Union, Japan and the US have a considerable number of nuclear power plants and have experienced a number of failures. The tightly knit Soviet Union and Japan have displayed commendable individual acts of heroism in the aftermath of such incidents but it was the more individualistic US who has somehow ‘ducked’ any serious experience of this kind.

On the other hand, I see potential trouble when I hear people stating that “My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins”.
On the face of it, this sounds perfectly reasonable.
Only the whole thing absolutely depends on both individuals involved in it having comparable reach. Do you really think that a guy with twice the ‘wing-span’ of his opponent would continue to stick to this rule if the by-standers would not band together to stuff it down his throat?

My point being that no ‘market’ is really free if its freedom relies primarily on a set of rules instead of depending on a healthy dose of sincerely upheld mutual respect among the participants to that market.
In this instance ‘free’ and ‘freedom’ are perfectly interchangeable with functional/sustainable.

The communist centrally planned economies had failed abysmally  simply because the powerfuls of the day had nothing but contempt for those under their rule.
Japan’s strict set of rules about what constitutes proper behavior in each situation seems to act as a brake whenever decisive action is needed.
America’s new mantra, ‘greed is good’, has time and time again produced speculative bubbles which have inevitably ended up badly. Under its spell, the market actually looses every shred of liberty. Exactly as a hypnotized group of people think of themselves as being free while sheepishly obeying the orders of their herder.
I gather you all know what ‘herd behavior’ means…

Compare Ayn Rand’s words to Adam’s Smith original idea.

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.”

See what I mean?

Smith sees all ‘market goers’ as equals who freely address each other while Rand applauds “the productive genius of free men” who, in pursuit of “their own private fortunes” had the magnanimity to bestow upon “the people better jobs, higher wages, and cheaper goods with every new machine they invented, with every scientific discovery or technological advance”.

I, for one, fail to detect any shred of actual respect towards “the people” in the behavior so laudatory described by Rand.
And I’ll let you be the judge whether her description fits the current ‘state of the nation’.
Anywhere on the planet, not only in the US.

“and thus the whole country was moving forward and profiting, not suffering, every step of the way.”

jobless men keep going

 

Each of us tries to deliver themselves from the misery of this world.

We attempt that at the intersection of three realities.

The ‘hard’, the ‘virtual’ and the ‘socially constructed’.

The ‘hard’ one is what Marx called ‘the objective reality’. Whatever exists outside our individual minds. Whatever doesn’t need any confirmation from any of us.
For instance, a rock can very well lay on the bottom of the sea without any conscious agent being aware of its existence. No one might ever become aware of its existence but that actually doesn’t matter. Same thing goes for a man made piece of furniture. The original craftsman might die, the owner also,  and the ‘thing’ might be forgotten in a warehouse – or attic – without its existence, ‘in the hard reality’, being jeopardized in any way.

The ‘virtual’ one is whatever each of us makes of what happens around them. It consists of three, separate yet interdependent, ‘ingredients’. The ‘perceived’ realities, the ‘intended’ realities and the ‘engines’ that make all of them possible – our conscious selves.
I’m speaking of ‘realities’ because each of us is different from all others – hence ‘sees’ slightly differently from all others, cannot inhabit the same place in space – hence ‘sees’ the world from a slightly different perspective, doesn’t have the same goals – hence entertains different intentions.

The ‘socially constructed one’ comprises the aggregate consequences of our efforts. Intended and unintended. Known to us and unknown by us.  Belonging both to the physical and metaphysical realms. As in both the Egyptian pyramids and language being parts of the socially constructed reality.

Please note that the first and third ones are ‘objective’ in Marx’s terms while the second in purely subjective.
It is also worth noting that the ‘hard’ reality is not immune to our efforts and that the ‘socially constructed one’ becomes ‘harder’ with the passage of time. The pyramids dotting the banks of the Nile constitute a very good example of our ability to change the ‘hard’ reality while the Catholic Church – one institution among many – is a good example of a metaphysical construct resilient enough to survive for two millennia.

Another very interesting ‘social construction’ is the concept of liberty.

I find it very interesting because it is simultaneously ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’, ‘natural’ as well as ‘man-made’.
It is objective in the sense that it continues to exist no matter how many individuals subject themselves to abject spiritual slavery.
It is subjective in the sense that each of us understands freedom in their own way.
It is ‘man made’ in the sense that we have coined the concept and minted the words used to describe it.
Yet it is ‘natural’ since we all are made of flesh and blood and need to breath in order to stay alive. And yes, it is us who have invented the dog-collar and the leash we use to restrain the liberty of our dogs. Exactly because it is natural for them to try to be as free as possible.

Since this is but a blog post I’ll fast forward to what I had in mind for today.

The free market.

Which is, evidently, a socially constructed institution.
Supposedly, a place which miraculously transforms “private vices” into “publick benefits“.

Well, I’m afraid that those who have convinced themselves that ‘greed is good’ have understood nothing of Bernard Mandeville’s stark warning.

A market may be fueled by ‘greed’, or even by (evil)’vices’, but it is the freedom of those who partake in that market which keeps everything in check.

The communist centrally planned economies were also fueled by individual lust for power. They failed simply because no small group of people is smart enough to master such complicated matters nor humble enough to see/accept its limitations.

The very same lack of freedom has produced the financial crises of 2008.

‘Greed is good’ is nothing but a rationalization of the current obsession with monetary rewards over the very shortest time frame coupled with a blatant disregard for the longer term consequences of our actions.

And as any drug addict can confirm – whenever they are not ‘feeling high’, entertaining any obsession means loosing one’s freedom.

In reality, actually free markets are fueled by trust, not by greed.
And (self)governed by the fact that each participant is free to define/pursue its own interest and react to anything that is happening inside the market’.
Unfortunately, current markets are no longer free. Not that much because of governmental intervention but mainly because too many of the participants are blindly chasing the same narrowly defined ‘interest’.

“But man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.”

Smith’s words could not have been any clearer. Each of the participants to the free market wants something different from the market and each of the participants trusts the others to provide those different somethings – as long as the buyers can satisfy the sellers, of course. Nobody gets robbed while everybody gets whatever specific things they had come for.
In modern terms this would have been described as an ‘everybody wins’ situation.

Compare this with the contemporary mantra.
‘Profit maximization’.
Everybody chasing the proverbial ‘fast buck’
‘Enjoy the moment’ & ‘forget about tomorrow’.

And we continue to kid ourselves about the ‘freedom’ of our markets…

Even funnier is how we have twisted Mandeville’s warning to fit our own narrative.

“Millions endeavouring to supply
Each other’s Lust and Vanity …
Thus every Part was full of Vice,
Yet the whole Mass a Paradise …
The bees, however, are not satisfied to have their viciousness mixed with their prosperity. All the cheats and hypocrites declaim about the state of their country’s morals and pray the gods for honesty. This raises the indignation of Jove, who unexpectedly grants the hive its wish.
BUT, Oh ye Gods! What Consternation,
How vast and sudden was th’ Alteration!
As Pride and Luxury decrease,
So by degrees they leave the Seas.
All Arts and Crafts neglected lie;
Content, the Bane of Industry,
Makes ’em admire their homely Store,
And neither seek nor covet more.

In this way, through the loss of their vices, the hive at the same time lost all its greatness.

Now comes the moral:
THEN leave Complaints: Fools only strive
To make a Great an Honest Hive.
T’ enjoy the World’s Conveniencies,
Be fam’d in War, yet live in Ease,
Without great Vices, is a vain
Eutopia seated in the Brain.

Fraud, Luxury and Pride must live,
While we the Benefits receive. …
So Vice is beneficial found,
When it’s by Justice lopt and bound;
Nay, where the People would be great,
As necessary to the State,
As Hunger is to make ’em eat.

Apparently, Mandeville’s verses do not make much sense.
Why would a hive which had successfully purged itself off all vices find itself in a far worse situation after the cleansing?

Let’s first try to understand what those vices were.

Millions endeavouring to supply
Each other’s Lust and Vanity …
Thus every Part was full of Vice

Let me remind you of the fact that Mandeville had lived, and written, during the same period when the Puritans were trying to impose their strict moral code on the rest of the British society. And for the Puritans any attempt, made by ‘millions’, to supply ‘each other’s lust and vanity’ (a.k.a. various personal needs and fancies) was ‘vicious’ in itself.

The point of the whole thing being that it was not the absence of vices which had brought down the hive but the obtuse single-mindedness with which the vices had been banned. A line of thought very much the same with Durkheim’s ‘normality of crime‘.

And not very much different from our current obsession with (short time) profit!

 

 

a goal-oriented person or team works hard to achieve good results in the tasks that they have been given”

For the purpose of this post it doesn’t matter whether the goal has been assigned by somebody else or has been chosen by the  would be goal-achiever itself.

The problem, as I see it, is that those who focus too much on achieving a specific goal usually fail.

For at least two reasons.

First of all the goal itself might not be appropriate. Never was or something had changed.
For example, I had learned hard to become a mechanical engineer. Worked as one for 5 years and enjoyed every minute of it. I still love to fix things around the house.
But I gave it up when I realized I couldn’t feed myself in post communist Romania.

We consider ourselves to be rational. If this were true, all human goals would have been both appropriate and achievable.
How many of them really are?
Then why are so many of us willing to go to extreme lengths in order to achieve certain goals, against all signals suggesting that they should desist?

Even if the goal is reasonable, for instance to loose 20 pounds in a certain situation, if the would be achiever is excessively focused on that single goal it may try to reach it too soon, be unhappy during the entire duration of the process or even both at the same time.

So, should we give up all our goals?

That would be a goal too… so… no, obviously!

What I’m trying to say is that goals should be our stepping stones instead of being considered, any of them, ultimate pinnacles.

Before going any further I’d like to discuss the alternative suggested by Shane Parrish in at least two different articles.

Goal-oriented people usually fail, and other things I’ve learned about succeeding at work 2015 in BusinessInsider.com and

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, 2013 in Farnamstreetblog.com

There’s no real alternative? He is still focused on a specific goal, “success”, only he is wise enough to consider it in a reasonable way – as in ‘create as little disturbance as possible during the process of achieving it’?

Well, this is indeed a very important step forward.

Yes, forward!

I never said I was willing to give up goals altogether so I (think I) know where I’m headed!
The point is, and here I agree completely with Shane Parrish, that we should try to achieve our goals WITH at least some of those around us instead of being ready to reach them by CRUSHING, one way or another, everybody who might dare to even utter the smallest dissent.

In other words, there is only one legitimate goal that each of us is entitled to pursue at any length. Survival. All others are figments of our imagination and should be followed with discretion. Otherwise our actions might turn against us. And hamper our own survival.

Let me give you a very hot example.

Last year the American People had chosen their President.
This is a two step process. In the first one the parties nominate their candidate and then the entire people is asked to pick one of them for the job.

Almost the entire world knows that the American political scene is divided between the Democrats and the Republicans and that having your man at the helm is a big bonus for any party – the latter being valid in almost all countries, not only in America.

During the first of the two electoral steps, the Democrats have nominated Hillary Clinton while the Republicans have chosen Donald Trump. Apparently two completely different individuals.
A consummate ‘political insider’  versus a successful business man with a history of getting things done, seemingly at all odds.

Lets see how differently these two guys really are.

Hillary Clinton had identified, correctly, a huge number of issues and and formulated reasonable promises about each and every one of them.
Donald Trump had identified a huge pool of discontent and energized those who were waddling in there aimlessly.
Different indeed but only the opposite sides of the same coin. Political marketing at its  best. Or worse?

Hillary Clinton was a person who had no problem in using her, and her husband’s, official position and authority to achieve her goals, even if that meant bending the rules. Using a personal e-mail server, installed in a private setting, wasn’t a proper thing to do for a Secretary of State, was it?
Donald Trump is indeed a very successful entrepreneur. Only he did his ‘thing’ in a very ‘special’ domain. One subjected to various zoning laws and other heavy rules imposed by the ‘all powerful’ government.
I’m also going to remind you of the fortune he had inherited from his father – made using comprehensive political connections – and that Trump had used part of his money to curry favors with various political figures.

“Trump later told Politico, “As a contributor, I demanded that they be there—they had no choice and that’s what’s wrong with our country. Our country is run by and for donors, special interests and lobbyists, and that is not a good formula for our country’s success. With me, there are no lobbyists and special interests. My only special interest is the United States of America.”

And it’s not only that he had no qualms in using his money to convince politicians to do what he wanted them to do, he also tried to use governmental power to ‘convince’ an old lady, under the pretext of ’eminent domain’, to sell her house, at half price, so that he could build a limousine parking lot for a casino in Atlantic City.

These two candidates no longer seem to be so different anymore, do they?
Both equally ‘goal oriented’ – a.k.a. power hungry – and equally determined to use whatever ‘energy’ they could concentrate in that direction, including governmental power.

Then how come each of them had been nominated by their respective parties?
Considering that both parties paid lip service to the need to simplify the government…

Could it be that the real goal of both parties was to gain the Oval Office?
At all costs to the country at large?

I’m not going to pretend now that the survival of the US is in danger, just because Trump, currently acting like an elephant in a China shop, is the perfect opportunity for Putin to inflict as much damage to the US as he possibly can.

You see, Putin didn’t meddle into the election process because he had any hopes that he would be able to influence any of Trump’s decisions. Putin simply knew that Trump, once elected, will, in a ‘natural manner’, wreak havoc in Washington. What else could he have asked for?

Well, this may prove to be yet another ‘goal oriented’ failure… Had Clinton become President she would have probably continued to encourage the malignant growth of an already humongous government… this way the American People has the chance to wake up. Because of the tantrum Trump is throwing around…

And, maybe, the parties will also learn something.
Democratic government means governing for the country as a whole, not for the group which happens to control the power.
Real democracy is about honestly discussing the issues before the elections, so that as many as possible of the potential problems to become evident before the people having to choose a direction or other. Whenever the parties try to lure the population towards a particular ‘goal’, using any of the various tools devised by the political marketeers, the electoral process is no longer democratic.
In that case the whole thing has been demoted to ‘mob rule’. Which is dangerous.

Over reliance in our ability to choose a goal or to devise/run a system (government) is the deepest pitfall ever dug by humankind. For ourselves.

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“Dolma”.

A vast variety of delicious dishes and a very complex social reality hidden behind a short string of letters.

The word itself, literally meaning “something stuffed“, belongs today to the Turkish language.

Google it and you’ll be ‘served’ with a cornucopia of Greek recipes, most of them teaching you how to prepare  stuffed grape leaves…

Check its etymology and you’ll find out its “First Known Use: circa 1889“.

Common, people must have been stuffing vegetables long before that… all around the Black and Mediterranean seas… the Italians have their ‘ripieni’, the Persians have been stuffing bell peppers (dolmeh-s) for some time now,  Armenians have their tolma-s while the Greek have the ‘wider’ gemista dolmadakia being reserved, as I already mentioned, for ‘stuffed vine leaves’.

So, what had happened during the XIX-th century that made so many different people – who were living more or less together but spoke different languages, to use the same word for a dish?

Forget about etymology and consider this.
Simultaneously with ‘dolma’ becoming the ‘dominant’ word for ‘stuffed vegetables’, the dominant power in the area where this was happening, the Ottoman Empire, was crumbling.

We can discuss ad nauseam the reasons for yet another empire fading away into history, but this is not the purpose of my post.
What I’m trying to say is that most of the inhabitants would have gladly continued to coexist peacefully and share their meals – if that had been possible, of course.

Just look at the symbolism of different vegetables, stuffed with the same filling, simmering together in the same pot and becoming delicious sustenance for the various individuals gathered around the same table to ‘break bread’.

But it didn’t come to be… the various forces and agents involved in the matter – the central power trying to survive, the ‘revolutionaries’ attempting to ‘modernize’ the society, the surrounding states and empires trying to gobble up portions of ‘the Sick Man of Europe‘, each followed what they considered to be ‘their best interest’.

And this is what’s going on now…, in the same city where traders from all over the Middle East used to partake dolmades in the world’s biggest covered market – the Aleppo Souk.

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Injured children are carried amid the rubble of destroyed buildings following airstrikes targeting the rebel-held neighborhood of Al-Mashhad in Aleppo on July 25. BARAA AL-HALABI / AFP – Getty Images

“If democracy and open societies depend on constantly providing their citizens with more wealth tomorrow than today, then the Western world — and soon enough the whole world — is in for tough times.” (Zachary Karabell, Forget Dow 20,000 — the Boom Times Are Over. Is Democracy Next?, Foreign Policy, 2017/01/26)

Shouldn’t we ‘back track’ and try to identify what and when, if any, we’ve done wrong before attempting to go any further?

The author identifies, with surgical precision, the stepping stones that have led us to where we are now.

We, in the West, have grown to associate material affluence with capitalism, democracy and liberalism.
In the process, we got “addicted” to a special kind of ‘economic growth’,  the one measured in monetary terms.Lately, after people no longer had as many children as they used to – which, supposedly, is going to hinder and eventually halt ‘economic’ growth, things are no longer seen in the same light.
The economic boom in China and recent developments in Philippines, Turkey and a few other places which “have seen a surge in nationalism of late, a questioning of democracy and skepticism about liberalism even as economic growth has been strong and deep”  are adding to the confusion.
Even “more surprising is the erosion of support for democracy and the norms of liberalism — even of capitalism — in the United States, France, Spain, Greece, and elsewhere”.

He also identifies, with equal precision, some of the barriers that prevent us from seeing the wider picture.

That we haven’t yet developed a clearer understanding of what liberalism and democracy might be. In his own words they still are “adolescent concepts relative to the tenure of recorded history”.
Then there is the matter of how we understand ‘economic’ growth.
“Politicians and governments rise and fall based on how successfully they have been seen to address the problem of wealth and jobs — not the problem of food, shelter, health, and quality of life.”
“we know no other way to assess economic strength and societal success except by the metric of growth. Three hundred ago, the metric was armies and territory. Today, it is GDP, jobs, and wages. You could craft a lovely society with zero growth, but nobody would believe it if GDP, jobs, and wages were shrinking and the rewards remained unevenly dispersed.”
And it’s not only a matter of understanding but also one of perception. “How people react to inequality is hardly straightforward; the populist wave that elected Trump doesn’t yet mind a billionaire cabinet. But the perception that some are reaping rewards at the expense of the many is deep and strong; that, too, was a line almost verbatim in Trump’s inaugural address.”
Which perception leads to a certain way of seeing things. “We clearly are able to provide basic material needs to everyone. But in the developed world, we are failing to provide a sense of security even while most people’s lives are de facto more secure.
On top of this, there is “anger”. Produced by the “evidence that we have the ability to meet our collective needs and wants” corroborated with the “ample evidence that many countries lack the political will or social consensus to make that happen”.

So, what next?

In Mr. Karrabell’s terms, we need to brush off skepticism, fear and anger – since they “are not themselves barometers of the future” – and …

“The greatest questions for the coming years is whether material stability is enough to mitigate against political chaos and societal decay.”

I’m sorry but I really don’t like this kind of ‘wait and see’ attitude.
It doesn’t make much sense to bother about something that will happen outside your sphere of influence, does it?
Place a bet, if you are a betting guy, and go back to whatever you might be able to actually do!

How about rephrasing that question?

What is it that might bring about the “political chaos and societal decay” we are so afraid of?

Now is the moment for me to make a confession.
I’ve altered, just a little bit, the narrative.
While Mr. Karrabell did mention “anger”, he only said about it that it was “evident” – without providing any cause for it. It was I who associated that anger with the “ample evidence that many countries lack the political will or social consensus” to “meet our collective needs and wants”.
The way I see it there is no way that any country might ‘meet our collective needs and wants’, no matter what amount of ‘political will or social consensus’ might be involved in the process. Not in the longer run, anyway.
All communist regimes – which were, declaratively, trying to accomplish exactly that – have failed. Abysmally.  Not because, in reality, all of them did nothing but cater for their ruling elite but because all of them used to be run according to a ‘central plan’.

And stop calling China a ‘communist’ regime. Or Vietnam, for that manner. As long as the ‘means of production’ are more or less private, and their owners free(ish) to use them as they see fit, those countries are not ‘communist’. They might not be entirely free but they are not at all ‘communist’. Venezuela, for instance, is a lot more ‘communist’ than China.

But let’s return to the countries that might attempt to make it so that ‘our collective needs are met’.
How are they going to do that?
First of all, those in charge – the government, right? – would have to determine what those ‘needs and wants’ are and only then make the necessary arrangements for them to be met. But not more than that, because that would be wasteful.

Do I hear any chuckles? You figured out that those ‘willing’ countries would have to use the same ‘central planning’ system that has already led to the failure of the communist regimes?

How about re-framing the whole situation?
How about the “ample evidence” mentioned by Mr. Karrabell suggesting that too many countries – including the one that has recently inaugurated Mr. Trump as President – no longer have “the political will or social consensus” to allow their citizens enough real freedom and enough real opportunities to pursue their own “needs and wants”? As they see fit?

Then shouldn’t we next try to understand the process through which the erstwhile ample opportunities have been curtailed?

As I mentioned before, I’m going to use the ‘back-walking’ method.

First step, anger. We really need to loose that. Nothing good ever came out of it.

Specially when considering the next steps, perception and understanding. If we allow anger to cloud our thinking both perception and understanding will yield errors instead of knowledge.

Which brings us to our obsession with (monetary measured) growth. Could this obsession be explained by the fact that money is the easiest thing to distribute but also the easiest thing to hoard? Panem and circenses eventually failed… Why do we still see hoarding money as a legitimate goal (after amassing more than one could ever spend, with the entire family, in a hundred years)… beats me.
But explains what’s going on.
As long as enough of us see hoarding money as a legitimate past-time, more and more people will engage in it. More exactly ‘try to engage’ in it. And this is the very behavior which produces ‘bubbles’. As in ‘market bubbles’. And, eventually, crashes.

But not only crashes. Misconceptions also.

“There is little evidence that democracy and liberalism (and capitalism) in their current form are the best or only conduit for providing for economic needs and wants for all. If they were, there would be less roiling discontent.”
My point being that none of those, in any form, are ‘conduits’ for anybody to provide, through them, anything for anybody else.
Democracy, liberalism and capitalism, together, determine the three dimensional ‘space of opportunity’ where we, human individuals, try to provide for our own needs. If allowed to, of course.
It fact it is not the “politicians and governments” mission to “address the problem of wealth and jobs”. In a full-fledged liberal democracy the government does nothing but guards the freedom of the economic market  and the safety of the citizens – including their ‘human’ rights and private property.

As for capitalism… it doesn’t provide anything. Lest of all “incentives”. People provide incentives. Capitalists provide their employees with incentives to work and politicians provide the capitalists with incentives to engage in such or such enterprises or to refrain form others. And while the first kind of incentives, those provided by the capitalists themselves, work as intended – increase productivity, that is, if employed wisely, the latter end up curtailing the freedom of the market. Which can no longer work smoothly enough. This being the moment when opportunities disappear for the ‘man in the street’ and when those ‘connected’ to the government start to ‘flourish’.

You see, real capitalism is not as much about money as it is about trust.
Trust that your business partner – well, most of them – is going to fulfill his end of the bargain, not try to rip you off. Trust that if things go wrong – in the rare event that he does try to rip you off – the government will move swiftly on your behalf.

That’s all.
That’s what Deng Xiaoping meant by ‘I don’t care about the color of the cat, all I care is for it to catch the mouse’. That’s why the Chinese imported capitalism works. Because the Chinese government has learned that the market cannot do its job, in the longer time frame, without a certain dose of ‘liberty’.
The problem being that China is but an exception. Along with a few other examples, mostly in South Asia, they are the very few countries whose authoritarian governments have learned to refrain from interfering too much in their economies.

Looking back in time, ‘back-tracking’ that is, we’ll notice that capitalism has emerged in places where the entrepreneurs had both considerable individual liberty and enough wisdom to refrain themselves from trying to con their business partners. Otherwise the whole (budding) economic effervescence of the time would have very quickly been smothered by greed.
Think of the Medieval Venetians trading with the Arab merchants of the time. This being the reason for why the oldest surviving bank in the world, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, is based in Italy – the least centralized country in the Medieval Europe.
Or think about how a hand shake used to be enough to seal a deal between two Americans. Some time ago… nowadays you need an army of lawyers to buy a car… not to mention the flurry of official permits needed in most cases…

So, what we need to do, if we want to continue to be a source of inspiration for the rest of the world, is to restore democracy, liberalism and capitalism to what they used to be. Dimensions which described the space of opportunity that used to be open for all of us.

OK, hindsight is always 20-20… or so they say…
I’m afraid that what I just described was an idealized mental construction but I’m sure that you got my drift.
After-all, if the Chinese were able to learn it from us … we’ll surely be able to restore it to its old glory.
Or else…

http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/01/26/forget-dow-20k-the-boom-times-are-over-is-democracy-next/

For more than a year now I was struggling to understand the circumstances that have produced the current political mess in America.

I finally figured it out.

Confusion and dissatisfaction!

If you have enough people that are both confused and malcontent then all kind of ‘strange’ things will happen.

Only one of them won’t be enough to explain the whole gamut of what’s going on and that’s why I wasn’t satisfied by any of the many articles that pointed out one reason or another for the ‘popular discontent that brought the Donald to the White House’.
In fact no amount of ‘unhappiness’ can explain how two mature parties can nominate such lousy candidates. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump fit, not even loosely, the profile of a decent President. That’s why the voter turn-out was the lowest in the last 80 years or so.

But if you add ‘confusion’… things begin to clear out.

And no, I’m not speaking here about the regular people being confused as a result of the ‘politicos’ having misbehaved horribly.
I’m afraid things are way deeper than this.
Even those who believe themselves to be educated in these matters seem to be swimming in a sea of thicker and thicker fog.

Take, for instance, the current debate about the differences between ‘republic’ and ‘democracy’.

A republic is a representative type of government, and its goal is to simultaneously control the majority while protecting the minority. For example, in the republic of the United States, the government is limited constitutionally, and power is divided between the three branches of government.

A democracy is a type of government that grants eligible citizens the right to equal participation. This right is provided directly through the creation and development of laws or through elected representatives. The interest of the majority is the most important aspect in a democracy.

A republic is a representative form of democracy. A republic has an elected head of state, such as a president, that serves for a specific period of time. In a republic, the interest of the majority rules through its elected representatives. However, a republic has a constitution that protects the minority from being entirely overruled or unrepresented.

See what I mean? Adding insult to injury this definitions were published by a site which calls itself ‘reference.com‘ …

I’m not going to pick truth from fiction in that quote, that would only add to the already too thick confusion.

Enough for me to say that ‘republic’ is indeed a manner in which societies are organized (a.k.a. ‘governed’) while ‘democracy’ is a manner in which societies decide for themselves. Yes, these two things have a lot in common but we should not confuse them.

There are republics which only pretend to be democratic – like the late Soviet Union or the current Democratic Republic of Korea, some which are democratic in a rather strange way – Iran for example, or which are slowly ‘loosing’ democracy behind – like Orban’s Hungary or Putin’s Russia. History has also a few examples of republics which had given up democracy all together. Hitler’s Germany, for instance.

On the other hand there are monarchies (OK, constitutional monarchies) which are perfectly democratic. The British Commonwealth, Sweden, Norway, Holland, Belgium…

What can explain the current confusion?
‘The interest of the majority is the most important aspect in a democracy’?!?
A major lack of understanding about what democracy really means?

A terrible confusion between the formal aspects of democracy – freedom to vote for what ever candidate accompanied by a fair account of the ballots – and the really important tenets of democratic behavior – honest, open and mutually respectful exchange of ideas about the current state of affairs between the interested members of the society?
My point being that true democracy is about the opportunity to rationally convince those around you/making yourself available to be convinced by rational arguments, not about the majority imposing its view on the minority. That is nothing but mob rule, a horrid perversion of what democracy was meant to be.

Basically, what happens – under all forms of social arrangements/forms of government: republic, constitutional or absolute monarchy – in a society is that people need to know where that society is headed to. Authoritarian societies are run by the ruler – and the people, willingly, unwillingly or with mixed spirits, agree for the time being – while the democratic societies entertain a certain ‘effervescence of ideas’ which bring forward the important problems that need to be resolved and what would be the socially acceptable manners for those problems to be fixed.

But in order for that ‘effervescence of ideas’ to be efficient, the ordinary people have to contribute in earnest to the exchange and the politicians need to pay close attention and to cooperate among themselves and with the rest of the society towards solving those problems.

That’s why I’d like you to remember when was the last time that people on the different sides of the political divide have actually talked together?
Why do we have a ‘political divide’ in the first place?

Aren’t we supposed to be ‘all together’ in our respective countries?

What’s gotten into us that made us fight each-other so bitterly?

Why do we succumb so easily to ‘divide and conquer’?

Why are there still so many politicos who keep using this method, despite the ample proof that has been provided to us, through out the history, that ‘divide and conquer‘ inevitably ends up in disaster?

When your own rhetoric gives you license to commit mayhem. And worse

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